As a CFO, do you ever have that sinking feeling that your CEO doesn’t get you? Well, it turns out, he or she just might not.
Recent research from KPMG and Adaptive Insights finds that CFOs and CEOs differ markedly on how they view the role and expectations of the CFO. To borrow loosely from the legendary relationship book, there’s clearly a Mars-Venus dynamic in play in many C-suites.
And much like with any relationship, this disconnect can lead to trouble. In the near term, the lack of aligned thinking can short-circuit day-to-day effectiveness and stand in the way of developing and executing the best strategy to move your organization forward. From a longer-range perspective, the disconnect can hamper your career aspirations—particularly if you harbor ambitions to advance to the CEO role.
The glaring differences were laid bare in two surveys. KPMG’s “The view from the top” captured CEOs’ perspectives on a range of issues, including how they view the CFO role. Leveraging that research, Adaptive Insights conducted a similar survey of CFOs, to see how their answers compare to the views expressed by CEOs. Our CFO Indicator Q1 2016 report, “Big Data, Better Vision: The Agile CFO,” revealed clear insight into where CEOs and CFOs don’t see eye to eye.
Here’s a breakdown of three of the most glaring disconnects—and actions you can take as CFO to bridge the gap and create stronger alignment with your CEO.
Disconnect 1: The CFO’s role with technology
In the KPMG report, 89% of CEOs said they highly value a CFO’s agility with new technology, while Adaptive Insights’ Agile CFO report found only 23% of CFOs surveyed put a high value on that attribute. Clearly, many CEOs are looking to their CFO to play a critical role in digital transformation, particularly when you consider the trend of IT increasingly reporting directly to the CFO.
Here are three ways you can become better aligned with your CEO when it comes to technology.
Show off your tech chops: If you are a CFO who is adept at using—and explaining—new technology, then let it be known. Look for strategic opportunities to showcase how technology can lead to better results or greater efficiency. For instance, you could highlight how rolling forecasts informed by real-time data can help provide a clearer picture of what sales will look like in the upcoming quarter or through the end of the year. Identifying ways in which technology can help keep pace with change—or free up time to shift from more tactical work to strategic thinking—will also score points for any CFO.
Highlight how your team is using technology: CEOs want to know that the investment in technology is paying off. You can provide ongoing evidence of that by demonstrating how your team is leveraging technology to create more efficiencies and drive better business results. Many tools offer ROI calculators to ensure that you can prove the investment is worth your team’s time and resources. When appropriate, offer some quick demos on how your team is using technology to solve a problem or improve processes.
Disconnect 2: What key attribute makes for a great CFO?
The widest chasm in CEO-CFO perceptions focuses on the attributes that are most beneficial to a CFO’s performance.
In the KPMG report, CEOs ranked global experience (48%) as the most important attribute. Clearly, CEOs are looking to their CFOs to be able to make strategic recommendations through a multifaceted global prism.
Meanwhile, when CFOs were surveyed about the most important attribute to do their job well, global experience was barely on their radar. Instead, CFOs identify technical/analytical skills (65%) as most beneficial in the Agile CFO report. Those are skills CEOs likely see as a given if you have the CFO title, with only 8% of CEOs identifying it as the most beneficial attribute.
Here are two steps toward better alignment around key CFO attributes:
Hit the road: The surest way to gain a broader view of the business is to get out of the office to visit different locations within your company and meet with customers. “I can tell if a CFO will ever be a good CEO by their flight log,” said Godfrey Sullivan, Splunk chairman, during a recent CFO Symposium hosted by Adaptive Insights. “That is the best gauge for how much time they are spending out of the office, visiting with customers and gaining a broader perspective.
Diversify your team: For some CFOs, global experience is often difficult to come by. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a more developed global perspective. One approach: Look beyond the typical batch of resumes to find someone who knows about foreign expansion and understands the cultural differences associated with international working relationships.
Disconnect 3: The key challenges CFOs will face in the future
CEOs in the KPMG report cited the regulatory environment (40%) and risk management (37%) as the factors that will most significantly impact the CFO role moving forward. Meanwhile, CFOs identified big data and analytics (40%) as the greatest future challenge.
This disconnect is not as stark, but it’s still significant in terms of the expectations CEOs have when they look to their CFO for guidance as they chart their organization’s future direction.
Two ways to move toward a more aligned vision of the future include:
Rethink your view on regulation: Most CEOs don’t have the time to keep up with every regulatory change and what it might mean for the business. As a CFO, you can add value by updating your reporting practices by providing insights into how regulations will likely impact business—and how to respond effectively. “Don’t view regulation as a burden,” said Morris Treadway, KPMG global head of financial management and global lead for EPM Center of Excellence. “See if you can turn that into a competitive edge or opportunity. Many CEOs actually see an opportunity to capitalize on the regulatory changes. That mindset can get you ahead of the curve and drive a competitive advantage.”
Highlight your big data dilemma: Clearly, for many CFOs, the sheer volume and veracity of data coming into the organization pose a formidable challenge. Making your CEO more aware of the challenges and opportunities that big data and analytics represent can move toward more shared awareness. It can also help you make the case for more resources—technology and talent—to effectively leverage big data as a competitive advantage.
In the KPMG “The View From the Top” report, the majority of CEOs identified the CFO as the most important C-suite officer to partner with them. By thinking more like a CEO—and taking purposeful steps toward better alignment—CFOs can continue to assume a greater strategic role in driving corporate performance. Ultimately, that is good for the business—and for your future career prospects, particularly if you have an eye on the CEO seat.